March Madness with John U. Bacon: Michigan men and women rolling, Duke ends MSU's season
It's OK to admit it. Your NCAA tournament brackets are a mess, right? But it's been a fun to watch that mess unfold.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon won't judge you on your picks, but he did join Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to offer some insights on some of the action from the first weekend in the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments.
Doug Tribou: When we spoke before the start of the tournament, you noted how the Michigan men had gone win-loss-win-loss and so on for over a month. But the maize and blue picked a prime time to break that pattern with an upset win over Tennessee over the weekend. That's two wins in the tournament. What's working for the Wolverines right now?
John U. Bacon: A Cinderella story of Frankie Collins, a backup point guard who got almost no [playing] time before this tournament, filling in for DeVante Jones, who was out for the first game. He has been on fire and the whole team is clicking now. This team has always been good enough to beat anybody, but they've been inconsistent enough to lose to anybody. But there's two in a row. Fun little aside, they apparently played the team managers between the two games and got their loss out of the way. That's kind of funny.
DT: Michigan's an 11 seed. Up next, the Wolverines will face second-seeded Villanova in San Antonio, Texas. That's on Thursday evening.
Let's turn to Michigan State. In their second-round game Sunday against Duke, not so fortunate. The Spartans hung tough, but Duke came out on top 85 to 76. Last year, Tom Izzo and the Spartans squeaked into a tournament play-in game and lost. How loud will the complaints from the MSU faithful be after another year that falls short of expectations?
JUB: Well, you hope not too much because as Izzo himself said to me years ago, [talking about their now] two dozen straight runs in the NCAA tournament, "We should miss it once in a while just to remind them that it's not a birthright."
Because that's a spoiled fan base. They're like Michigan football fans. They're not happy unless they're not happy sometimes. But they played, as you pointed out, a heroic game against a very, very good Duke team, a Duke team that could win the national title. So they have nothing to be ashamed of.
DT: In the women's tournament, the Michigan women rolled against American University in the opening round on Saturday. The Wolverines won by 35 points. Michigan will now face Villanova in Ann Arbor, so that's the men and women both facing Villanova this week. In Monday night's game, the Michigan women will still play in Ann Arbor. How big is that home court advantage for Michigan?
JUB: Well, for this particular Michigan team, it is gigantic because they are 15-0 at home. For you non-sports fans, 15 is the wins and 0 is the losses. So they are undefeated at home. They're pure there. And what's great about that for the growth of the sport is they're getting bigger and bigger crowds every night. [U of M head coach] Kim Barnes Arico is building a program.
DT: John, let's turn to hockey for a moment. The Michigan hockey team is headed into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. U of M won the Big Ten hockey tournament over the weekend with a win over top seeded Minnesota. Now they'll take on American International in the opening round of the national tourney. How big of a jump has this season been for Michigan compared to recent years?
JUB: I don't know if it's a quantum leap by any means, but the sheer talent might have been the best Michigan's ever seen. They had three of the top five NHL draft picks and they came back to play at Michigan, which is exceedingly rare. They've got two of the 10 finalists for the best player of the year, and now they're a No. 1 seed, which is as good as it gets. So, in that sense it's been a storied season. They do have an investigation hanging over them, the results of which will come out in the spring. I have no idea how that's going to shake out, but I'm sure they've been dealing with that all season. But for now, the future is very bright.
DT: And we only have so much time for these segments with John, but it was a big weekend for the Wolverines in a number of other sports including women's gymnastics, men's gymnastics, and wrestling.
Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the conversation near the top of this page.